|All for the invisible leader! (Photos from the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias.)|
And, since the Chavez government has eliminated all checks and balances, they decide.
Even if this un-presidency doesn't violate the letter of the law, it sure does violate its spirit. The Venezuelan people have no more evidence than the word of a few top officials who've visited Havana that their president is even alive, much less that he'll someday recover. And, isn't a president supposed to be in his nation's capital, not on an island ruled by a dictatorship? The word 'president' comes from 'to preside', which is difficult to do from an overseas hospital bed.
But that's Venezuela, a land which Gabriel Garcia Marquez's magical realism could have created if it didn't already exist.
This travesty is yet more proof that Venezuela isn't ruled by a normal government of institutions, but by a personality cult. Venezuela's top officials seem very aware that their 'revolution's' main appeal lies not in any accomplishments, but in the charismatic personality of the comandante presidente, who's held power for about 14 years. Without him as figurehead, the public's loyalty would waver and the opposition might win any elections. Trials of the Chavez administration for corruption and human rights violations would likely follow. So, the Chavistas believe, it's better to hold out the possibility of Chavez's return, even if everybody knows it's a fantasy.
Behind the scenes, a power struggle's likely already going on amongst Venezuela's top officials in preparation for the inevitable end of this charade. Will Chavez's succesor be able to consolidate power and maintain at least a semblance of democracy? Will a desperate strongman emerge who'll rip away Venezuela's weak institutions and rule thru the military? Or, will the chavista leadership permit fair elections and hand power if the opposition wins?
|Chavez lastyear, showing the effects of chemotherapy.|
But they've accomplished that thanks to high prices for oil, on which the economy increasingly depends, as well as huge deficit spending. A hard economic landing looms. The government will be forced to devalue the bolivar currency and reduce or remove destructive but popular subsidies such as the almost-free gasoline. That belt tightening could trigger violence similar to the 1989 Caracazo riots, which helped create Chavismo in the first place.
|A sea of red for Chavez.|
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours